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Biofluorescence: First 'Glowing' Sea Turtle Discovered Near Solomon Islands [VIDEO]

Sep 30, 2015 11:03 AM EDT

hawksbill sea turtle found among coral reefs in the south Pacific off the coast of the Solomon Islands is the first biofluorescent reptile ever discovered.

"It was absolutely gorgeous," David Gruber, a marine biologist from the City University of New York who made the discovery in July, told CNN. Gruber explained that the turtle swam into the team's lights while they were on a night dive filming coral underwater. The turtle's appearance took everyone by surprise, he said.

Biofluorescence occurs when an organism absorbs blue light and emits it as a different color. The fluorescent light emitted is generally red, orange or green. This is different than bioluminescence, which involves a chemical reaction and has been seen in deep sea Angler fish and fireflies.

Gruber noted that the hawksbill sea turtle was emitting bright green and red colors, giving it an almost neon glow. Scientists have started to pay more attention to biofluorescent marine species within the past few years.

"It's a bit like a mystery novel," Gruber told CNN. "It started with jellyfish and coral, and the fluorescent molecules jellyfish and coral create has led to monumental breakthroughs in biomedical science."

Understanding fluorescence in species helps scientists explore the inner workings of cells. Scientists have discovered biofluorescence in some species of corals, crabs, insects, and in more than 200 species of sharks and fishes.

Scientists have observed these "glowing" abilities being used in a variety of ways. For example, corals use biofluorescence as sunscreen, but Gruber is unsure how glowing benefits this specific turtle.

"The ocean is the perfect place to evolve these kinds of fluorescent molecules because it is almost completely blue," Gruber explained. "The ocean absorbs almost every other color except for blue -- so these animals have been creating ways to take in that blue light and transform into other colors."

Sea turtle populations have been declining, Gruber noted, so"it'd be fairly difficult to study this turtle because there are so few left and they're so protected."

A video of Gruber's recent discovery can be found online, courtesy of YouTube. 

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